Friday, September 28, 2012

Where It All Began?

The BBC recently reported on an archaeological paper showing butchered ravens and crows in association with Neanderthal remains. Since there isn't any meat to speak of on those kinds of birds, the authors believe that Neanderthals must have used the birds' black feathers as body decoration. The archaeological article itself can be read and/or downloaded here.

Perhaps this kind of feather use is the ultimate mother of all human costuming? I shall keep an eye out for further research along these lines.


  1. Ravens and crows are certainly bigger than quail and game hens, which modern people do eat, so I'm not sure I would dismiss them as food sources.

    OTOH, the article does say that the meatiest areas had fewer butchering-type marks than the wing bones, which does support their hypothesis.

    Hmm. I wonder if Neanderthals had a way of stewing meat. Process birds for the fancy feathers, then gut and either pluck or skin the bodies and throw them in the stewpot, ala the bit in one of the "Little House" books when Ma makes a pie out of the blackbirds and crows that have been stripping the corn in field.

    1. Not having seen the finds, I don't know whether the ravens and crows during the Pleistocene were of the same size range as ravens and crows today. That affects the strength of the authors' evidence also, as does the apparent preference for corvids over larger birds that would have more meat.

      The authors note that the Neanderthals were "versatile hunter-gatherers ... who even included marine animals in their diet" but doesn't give further specifics. It would be interesting to know if we had information about Neanderthal food preparation techniques, and would be an interesting subject for my other blog. ;-)

  2. There are several reasons for self-decoration. Including camouflage.

  3. There can be many reasons for self-decoration, and the authors don't really speculate on those. The interesting part is that Neanderthals made the leap to the idea that such a use of feathers might help them achieve things they wanted--whether that be camouflage, the favor of the gods, whatever.